A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: vicki_h

Get Her to the Greek: Final Thoughts

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Aragma. A delightful Greek phrase that basically means the small joys of life.

It’s a slang word that means “chilling” but carries with it the notion to live simply, to enjoy the smallest things like a smooth white stone on the beach, sitting still and watching the waves, sipping a glass of wine with the one you love, with no rush, no worry, no sense of time or future obligations.

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That is the beauty of these Greek islands.

It’s about the tiny gifts like a simple plate of watermelon, some grapes, a basket of oranges, a bite of lemon cake, a sip or amaretto. Something small and sweet to make you feel welcomed. To make you feel home.

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It’s about the kind people. People so open and generous, we did not encounter one unkind soul, one rude person, one cross word from anyone in almost 2 weeks.

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It’s about making memories. Eating a tangy olive thick with oil and sprinkled with oregano, sipping a glass of simple table wine brought that morning by a local farmer while watching the afternoon sunlight bounce off the white cliffs that sweep into the turquoise sea, or feeling the softness of a kitten that sits on your feet beneath your table as you linger over a 3 hour lunch.

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In this place, there is no reason to hurry. Food isn’t picked before it’s ripe. Meals aren’t pre-made so that they can quickly be served. Bread doesn’t come in a plastic bag. Traffic moves with the speed of a tractor carrying a goat on the back. Sounds float with the rustle of the olive trees. Things are slow, ripe, fresh, and deliciously relaxed.

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Maybe the 9-5 daily rush, so that we can be successful and drive the nicest car and eat sushi on Tuesday nights isn’t what life is all about. Maybe these Greek islanders have it all figured out. Maybe life is a juicy orange with fresh yogurt and honey and a nap at 3:00 because the heat has made you sleepy. Maybe watching the sun peek up over the sea while sipping a simple Nescafe with brown sugar is worth more than a 6:00 a.m. spin class and a Starbucks Venti Latte.

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Maybe it just seems this way because “we are on vacation,” but I would swear the food tastes richer, the fruit seems sweeter, the air smells fresher. Maybe it’s simply because we slow down and have nothing to do all day but eat this bowl of tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with olive oil. Or maybe it’s because, as we pop a juicy, fragrant grape into our mouth, the sun is glinting off the cobalt water making diamonds dance on the surface.

Maybe.

Or maybe this place has magic, and while we are here, it transforms us.

If only for a few days.

From it we are changed, ever so slightly as we earn something sweet and slow to carry home.

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Posted by vicki_h 06:46 Archived in Greece Tagged greece corfu zante kefalonia greek_islands ionian_islands zykanthos shipwreck_beach navagio_beach cephalonia Comments (0)

Get Her to the Greek: Day Eleven

The Day We Hired an Illegal Boat in Greece. Why Not End With a Bang?

I couldn’t believe it was already our final day in Greece. We enjoyed one final al fresco breakfast by the pool.

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We had decided to rent a boat for our final day, since our boat day in Kefalonia had fallen through. I had contacted an online boat rental place located at the Aripa Port, simply because it was the only one that I could reserve online. We communicated weeks before through a series of texts and confirmed our boat rental for the day. I checked in to make sure we were still a go (lest we get halfway there and find out it was too windy or some other messiness). I was assured it was a go.

We made the hour drive to the Aripa Port. When we arrived, we parked in the only parking lot and looked around. We saw multiple rental boat stands but none that had the name of our rental company on it.

We wandered helplessly between the facilities and the docks looking for anything that might tell us where to go. Finally, we approached a gentleman at another stand and asked if he knew where we could find our rental.

He seemed to know something we didn't. He rolled his eyes, sighed heavily, and explained that they had no official stand and basically told us, “Good luck.”

Uh-oh. Had I booked with a hokey agency? Was a guy with a paddle boat going to show up? Had I rented a kayak instead of a power boat? Was anyone even going to show up at all?

I pulled up the photo of the boat the man had sent me and sure enough, we saw the boat tied to the dock, but there was no one nearby. I sent a text that said, “We are at the boat.”

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Within minutes, a man came running down from one of the restaurants. In broken English he explained something that we interpreted to mean he didn’t have an official license to allow renters to access boats from the dock, so he had to take the boat out with us in it, we had to drop him off on some sketchy rock outcropping where the boat police couldn’t see us, and we’d do the same in reverse when we returned.

Matt and I looked at each other and shrugged. Okay.

We were game. We were happy to help him stick it to the man.

We felt like Columbian drug smugglers trying to dodge the Coast Guard as we pulled out from the marina, quickly ducked into a cove, and literally dumped the guy on some random rocks.

Only I would rent the only illegal boat on the island of Corfu.

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It was a great boat and we spent an incredible morning touring the coastline, filled with endless little pocket beaches and insanely blue water. We pulled in to hidden coves and stopped to swim in the beautiful water.

We had only rented the boat for a ½ day, so we stopped at what we decided was our halfway point at a lovely beach and had a picnic lunch, cried over having to leave, swam a little more, cried a little more, rested on the beach, and cried one more time.

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Then we took a leisurely cruise back.

We weren’t really sure what the “plan” was when we returned. We had a return time. Had he just gone down to the rocks and waited? We had no idea.

As we pulled closer to the marina, we saw him crouched, hidden in the rocks, waving his arms. We puttered over and he jumped in, wiping sweat from his brow and said, “The boat police are in the marina.”

We had to do a covert detour to an entirely different place, because he couldn’t be seen bringing us into the marina. We were unceremoniously dumped at a staircase carved into the mountainside that led at least 3,000 steps straight up to a restaurant that was about a half mile from our parked car.

“You walk up steps, my father pick you up at top in car. Drive you back. No boat police. Go RIGHT. Not go LEFT.”

Matt and I looked at each other and shrugged. Okay.

“GO RIGHT,” he emphasized again. “NOT LEFT.”

WTH was going to happen to us if we went left???

It was a long, hot trudge up all of those steps. I kept looking over my shoulder, not sure what would be behind me. Were we being pursued? Had our illegal boat run been spotted? Were they going to tackle us and throw us in the pokey? I kept expecting the Hellenic Coast Guard to be moving in below us, weapons drawn, shouting for us to freeze. When we made it to the top, a white van was waiting with a strange man driving and, like the trusting fools we are, we climbed inside.

This is how you become sex slaves or get sold for your kidneys, people.

I felt like a drug mule with a kilo of cocaine in my Debbie Katz tote instead of a tourist spending the day on a leisurely boat tour of the Corfu coast.

Within moments, however, he parked back in the marina parking lot, invited us into his restaurant and offered us a free drink. We had not been picked up by a serial killer. We had been picked up by the boat owner’s father. Apparently, they were in this whole boat running thing together. They rented you a boat, shook you up, dumped you on a pile of rocks, and then offered you a frappe as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

All’s well that ends well, right? Our boat had been cheap. It had been a beautiful morning. We’d had a great day. And we didn’t get raped or sold for our organs. I call that a success.

Moving on.

We took a different way back, enjoying the winding drive through old town Lakones where we stopped for a snack with a view .

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I was curious what a jag of wine was. Especially when a "glass" is poured like this:

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The rest of the day was spent sipping drinks in the pool, laughing about our ridiculous boat rental, and thinking back over the past 11 glorious days.

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Because there were no great restaurants in the area, I had arranged to have the hotel prepare dinner and serve it poolside for our last night. The sky put on a spectacular display as we enjoyed a mixed appetizer platter (is it just me….or were those pigs in a blanket?), one final Greek salad, taztziki, pasta, stuffed peppers, and a Corfu beef dish that was the specialty of the house.

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I won’t bore you with the details of getting home other than to say we left Corfu early Friday morning and were back in Knoxville late Saturday.

And it was worth it.

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Posted by vicki_h 05:10 Archived in Greece Tagged greece corfu zante kefalonia greek_islands ionian_islands zykanthos shipwreck_beach navagio_beach cephalonia Comments (4)

Get Her to the Greek: Day Ten

Don't walk into the Light

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It was our final breakfast at the villa on Kefalonia. We gave our ferocious guard dog one final belly rub and loaded up the Fiat to head back to the airport.

It was a very short flight to Corfu, with glimpses of crazy beautiful beaches below.

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From the airport, we were immediately thrust into Old Corfu Town, a maze of tiny streets, one ways, and way too many pedestrians. It was a good hour drive to our hotel, so we decided to have lunch in Corfu Town.

Corfu Town was gorgeous. We enjoyed walking the beautiful streets and doing a little bit of shopping en route to the restaurant.

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I had chosen Rosmarino, a small Italian restaurant not too far from the airport. While I love Greek food, my mouth was longing for a change. We found Rosmarino tucked under a giant bougainvillea. We were seated outside and had a beautiful cut glass carafe of wine within moments.

PIZZA!

Food of the Gods.

We enjoyed two delicious salads, one with bresaola, parmesan, oranges and another with burrata and fresh tomatoes. We tried 2 pizzas: a spicy salami and a prosciutto and arugula.

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We were fueled up and ready for the drive to Pictures Suites.

For our final stay, I had booked our only hotel. With only 2 nights, a villa wasn’t practical. I couldn’t have been happier with my choice. Pictures Suites was a very small boutique hotel located on the shores of Agios Stefanos beach, and the Presidential Suite was exceptional. With two bedrooms, an open den/kitchen, and a huge private terrace with a private infinity pool, we couldn’t ask for more.

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We grabbed our complimentary bottle of wine and our fruit basket and chilled, Greek style, on the deck.

Pictures Suites was super close to Lofos Beach, also known as sunset beach, so of course we had to go see the epic sunset views.

The sunset was gorgeous, heart stopping even, but I was mostly mesmerized by the little flowers they put in the drinks.

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Sunset that evening was like a big party with friends, everyone sipping cocktails in the golden glow, music playing in the background, laughter being carried on the breeze, all of us watching the horizon with bated breath.

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We didn’t want to drive and there were no stellar restaurants within walking distance, so we walked to a non-stellar restaurant.

If Acropolis on Kefalonia had been the Denny’s of Greece, Brusko was the T.G.I Friday’s. Equally stereotypical and unimaginative, it was like the theme park version of a Greek Restaurant, but this time with loud waiters and really loud music. The restaurant next door was also playing really loud music, as though the two were competing for the honor of being the worst restaurant with the loudest horrible music. One was playing 80s dance tunes while the other churned out traditional Greek songs.

The food was decent, but after some of the outstanding meals we’d had, it was nothing special: spicy feta dip, mussels, prawns with ginger and garlic, and a sliced beef dish that reminded me of Shoney’s pot roast.

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And they didn’t bring us any free liquor or watermelon or cake.

Just sayin’.

We were ready for a good night’s sleep, and in our luxury Corfu digs…we expected to sleep like babies.

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I should note that we’d had some trouble with the lights. Now…sometimes in Europe, we have found ourselves faced with outlets, fixtures, toilet flushers, and the like that we weren’t 100% certain how to operate. Such was the case with the light switches at Presidents Suites.

I never could figure out how to turn them on or turn them off. I would simply keep hitting it until the thing I wanted to happen happened. Several times during the day, the bathroom light had gone off while I was in there, with no windows, in the pitch black darkness. I learned quickly to simply leave the door cracked.

Long after we had fallen asleep…the lights mysteriously came on. FULL ON. Matt can sleep through anything and managed to not even notice. I felt as though I had been launched onto the surface of the sun without a pair of sunglasses.

I jabbed. I poked. I held the switch down. I pushed it fast and released it. NOTHING.

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It was maddening.

Finally…like magic….it went back off.

Whew.

I climbed back in bed and fell asleep.

About an hour later….I was dreaming that I was walking in the dark and suddenly, an alien ship was above me….the light was beaming me up…don’t look into the light! DON’T LOOK INTO THE L—

I woke up and stared at the blaring ceiling lights. Which were on. Again.

This happened repeatedly. At some point I shook Matt the Wonder Sleeper awake and he tried to shut the lights off and was unsuccessful. He climbed back in bed, covered his head with a pillow, and promptly went back to sleep.

Damn his ability to sleep through an earthquake.

Finally, I gave up and did the only thing I could do. I pulled my little mask that I had brought for the flight out, slipped it on, and slept with the lights on.

It was de-LIGHT-ful.

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Posted by vicki_h 15:14 Archived in Greece Tagged greece corfu zante kefalonia greek_islands ionian_islands zykanthos shipwreck_beach navagio_beach cephalonia Comments (0)

Get Her to the Greek: Day Nine

Filakia, Kefalonia

A giant bag of oranges had been provided in our welcome basket and we hadn’t managed to eat many of them, so I decided to try my hand at fresh OJ. We enjoyed fresh juice and a lovely breakfast at the villa.

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I should note that Villa Quarda definitely exceeded our expectations. It was set on the end of a compound of 4 oceanfront villas, with a private pool, and a footpath to the beach below. When we arrived, we noticed the “Beware of Dog” sign, complete with an image of a ferocious looking German Shepherd.

Our guard dog came to visit us for cheese every morning. He made us feel very secure, indeed.

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We started our day by taking a second stab at the beach we had attempted to find on our first day, Paliolinos. This time, we found it on actual paved roads with no problems.

It was a pretty little beach, but we were underwhelmed, so we chose to lay our towels elsewhere.

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We found ourselves at Ai Helias. The only way to access the beach was a pretty long walk STRAIGHT DOWN. Because of that, we were surprised to find that it had a small bar, sunbeds, and umbrellas.

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We enjoyed caipirinhas (yes, during frappe hour) and swimming in the cool, clear water. We did not enjoy the very LOUD Greek woman next to us, who had her private bits hanging outside of her swimsuit, talking and gesturing loudly on the phone nearly the whole time we were there. We also did not like the sand.

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When lunchtime rolled around, we debated just trying to subsist on limes and mint from the bar in order to avoid trekking back up that hill in the midday heat, but we were used to our massive Greek lunches, so we pried ourselves off of our chairs to go in search of food.

We returned to Aviothos Beach and settled in at Enetiko Taverna for an oceanfront lunch: cucumber salad, olives, peppers, spicy pasta arrabiata, and beef stifado.

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For our final night on Kefalonia, I had reserved the best table at Il Borgo, an upscale restaurant with a commanding view of the valley and the the Castle of Saint George.

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The food at Il Borgo was a little different than the traditional Greek found everywhere else. It was a welcome change of pace. We started with sautéed mushrooms in white wine and grilled shrimp with garlic and cous cous. For dinner, we shared a massive rib steak and pesto pasta, followed by a darling little cheesecake. Even though we ordered dessert, the free sweet came out with the bill – an incredibly rich, moist spice cake.

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The real show stopper, however, was the sky. Nature put on quite a show for our last night on the island. Kefalonia wanted to make sure we wouldn’t forget her easily.

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Filakia, Kefalonia (little kisses). She had been a gracious hostess.

Posted by vicki_h 05:47 Archived in Greece Tagged greece corfu zante kefalonia greek_islands ionian_islands zykanthos shipwreck_beach navagio_beach cephalonia Comments (0)

Get Her to the Greek: Day Eight

You Bet Your Baklava

It was a slow-moving, post-wine kind of morning.

We started the day with breakfast at the villa, overlooking the sea.

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Like Zakynthos, Kefalonia had been hit hard by the 1953 earthquake. You could see the remains of buildings deteriorating into rubble everywhere as you drove. However, two historic villages survived the earthquake, both located on the far northern tip of the island: Assos and Fiskardo. Both were rumored to be exquisitely lovely.

After breakfast, we set out for the north end of the island. I found in Greece that the drive was always as beautiful as the destination.

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Our first stop was Myrtos Beach, one of the most famous beaches in the Ionian Islands and definitely the crown jewel of Kefalonia. It was a stunner.

Very similar in shape, appearance, and orientation to Petani, it appeared to be lit from within.

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We enjoyed a little beach time. Myrtos was as beautiful from below as it was from above. The beach was more white pebble than sand, part of what gave it such a striking appearance from above. And that water....oh that water....

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Then it was time to pile back into the car to continue our journey. The views along the coast were show stopping. We found ourselves continually stopping and just getting out of the car to stare.

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The next stop was the scenic village of Assos. A tiny and secluded village, Assos sits on a horseshoe shaped azure harbor dotted with waterfront tavernas and shops. It is surrounded by rolling hills covered in cypress trees. The village is dominated by a 16th century fortress that sits atop one of these hills.

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Crazy people, who like to hike for an hour in extreme heat, like to walk up the hill to the castle. I am not a crazy person and enjoyed it from afar.

There was a lot of traffic in Assos. We decided to park and walk around, as the village is so tiny, it can be walked in a very short bit of time. It was a fight to the death for parking, but we had the smallest car, so we squeezed into something I wasn’t even sure was a parking space.

Assos was beautiful and felt lost in time with pretty little colored houses lining the streets, small tavernas setting up tables for lunch at the water’s edge, and small boats bobbing gently in the harbor.

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It was also CROWDED. SO CROWDED.

And HOT. SO HOT.

As we tried to make our way through throngs of people, sweat started running into my butt crack.

“I’m good to go,” I said to Matt, “You?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” he panted, wiping sweat from his brow.

We climbed back into our little car, which required me to climb in through the passenger window, as we were wedged against a cement wall, and headed to Jerusalem Beach to find Oddysseas Tavern for lunch.

We wound our way down to Jerusalem Beach . The road seemed to snake up and down and around forever. With each turn, I grew more and more nervous that I was taking us down a long road to nothing, where would languish forever and die of starvation, all because I relied too heavily on Google maps in a foreign country.

Before long, we found ourselves rounding a curve with a gorgeous beach view below and one lone taverna near the sand.

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Odysseas Tavern was quaint and rustic. Set among olive trees, it afforded an open air view of the beach.

All of the food sounded amazing, so we ordered a feast. We ordered so much that, as I was contemplating adding some fish, the waiter said, “You’ve probably ordered enough.” When the waiter at a Greek restaurant tells you that you have over ordered, you’ve seriously over ordered.

While we waited for our food, we sipped house wine and watched one little kitten with a bad eye beg at the next table for food.

“Awwww, Matt,” I said, “Look at him. He’s so little and he’s got that bad eye. See if he wants some bread,” bread being the only thing we had at that point.

Matt had no sooner tossed down a piece of bread when no fewer than 12 cats came running out of the bushes. Very smart. Send in the gimpy one and then bum rush the diners. They knew we were an easy mark.

We spent the rest of our lunch feeding cats. So many cats.

Our lunch arrived. We had gigantes (giant beans…I kept seeing them on the menu and I just had to know…), a stuffed baked artichoke, stuffed peppers, roast chicken with potatoes, and olive and cheese bread.

That artichoke changed my life.

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After lunch, we drove to the historic village of Fiskardo. Fiskardo was supposed to be the most beautiful village on the entire island. I had seen photos of brightly colored buildings with wooden shutters draped in bougainvillea and cobblestone streets lined with eclectic shops and cafes. I had a vision of sipping an icy cocktail and watching the boats nod lazily in the harbor.

My vision was not my reality. When we arrived, Fiskardo had been invaded by a multitude of massive day tripper boats from mainland Greece.
Aiboi!

It wasn’t just the volume of people, it was the manner of the people. The delicate little town was overrun by people wearing nothing but swimsuits and flip flops, maybe a dreadful beach cover that would have been better suited for Myrtle Beach on bike week. They were sucking down frappes in gargantuan plastic cups and gobbling down ice cream cones as though ice cream was going to disappear from the earth forever in the next five minutes. They carried bags filled with cheap, ugly plastic souvenirs made in China and wore “I left my heart on Kefalonia” hoodies. My favorite were the women in overly billowy gowns with giant hats and oversized sunglasses and huge wedge heels trying to walk on the uneven stone streets and taking their own photo every 30 seconds as though they were the star of their own reality show, while a husband/child/boyfriend followed dutifully behind taking a video with his phone.

We couldn’t even shop for the multitude of bodies.

We popped into a what appeared to be a fairly empty café, Le Passage. It was smack in the middle of the harbor and provided a front row seat to the freak show. It was a lovely oasis in the midst of hell.

We ordered up some cocktails and settled in to watch.

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This is Matt's "Please Stop Taking My Picture" face. It's almost as good as his "Why The Hell Am I On This Ledge" face.

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Before we finished the first drink, we heard a long, low horn.

Cattle Call!!!

We watched the people scramble to get back to their boats before they got left behind, with nothing to sleep in but a “I heart Fiskardo” t-shirt. They were grabbing their frappes and ice-creams and literally running for the boat.

I sipped my bellini.

Within 30 minutes, Fiskardo was blessedly empty. We didn’t know it, but we had timed it just right. It was so incredibly peaceful after the boats left.

We enjoyed another cocktail, just to be on the safe side, I mean, some of them could have still been lingering around.

Then we enjoyed a tranquil, uncrowded stroll around the village.

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We drove back to the villa and spent the afternoon in the pool and enjoying our sunset wine ritual.

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And then it was time for our sunset hour on the deck, something we looked forward to every day.

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I had remembered to make an actual reservation for Espirides, so we headed to dinner at the sweet little restaurant in the orange grove.

It was sublime.

The front restaurant gave way to a small, intimate courtyard in the back, tucked into the orange grove with one huge orange tree in the center. We had reserved a table in the courtyard and it didn’t disappoint.

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Course after course welcomed us: mushrooms, baked sausages in a savory sauce, a lovely salad, sole wrapped in bacon with a blue cheese cream sauce, pork medallions, and their signature orange cake for dessert.

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We lingered so long, we were the only patrons left. At that point, the waiter brought out a complimentary shot of Bacardi Vintage Black. We told him we’d only drink it if he had one with us.

Opa!

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Posted by vicki_h 05:46 Archived in Greece Tagged greece corfu zante kefalonia greek_islands ionian_islands zykanthos shipwreck_beach navagio_beach cephalonia Comments (0)

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